Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman Lynched

 

US. Senator James O. "Big Jim" Eastland (1904-1986)

I've posted a sample Chapter of The Plan -- set for July publication -- honoring the three civil rights workers who were killed in Mississipppi, back in the summer of 1964. This chapter mentions this tragic lynching. Susan

The Plan – A Historical Fiction Novel about Two Murdered Black, Gay Lawyers And A White Detective , All Killed Because They Knew Too Much About The Assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Note: In this chapter of The Plan, the last man standing, Mississippi lawyer Clinton Moore, searches through his collection of secret notes, documents, reports and other information he’s collected over the years on cold cases. He looks for any evidence that will help find who killed his lover, Joe Means, a Montgomery attorney. Moore begins his search by focusing on what he knows about the late U.S. Senator James O. Eastland and his involvement in various civil rights murders and crimes, including the killing of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, three young Freedom Summer volunteers who were lynched on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County's Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the "Freedom Summer" campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

 

The Plan -- By Susan Klopfer

Chapter 18 First Under the Microscope: ‘Big Jim’ Eastland

I close my eyes and pull up images of Big Jim Eastland. He’s standing on a flag-draped bandstand somewhere in a little Delta cotton town, giving a rousing Fourth of July speech, his ignorant words of hate peppered with racial slurs. Little kids sit around the base of the stage – some of them black – as parents stand behind, arms folded across their chests, listening to his words.

William Faulkner, Mississippi’s and the world’s literary genius, never came close to developing a character that looked and behaved exactly like the real U.S. Senator James O. Eastland. Faulkner didn’t have the guts. Even without such a mythical image to spark my imagination, I’ll always remember this man. How he looked, talked and even smelled. Evil has an odor, as my Grandpa Willie used to say.

The senator’s plantation wasn’t far from Clarksdale, and occasionally we would see each other – even shake hands – at government meetings when he was home to pump up voters and work his family plantation.

Choosing which of my secret boxes to attack first simply came down to which of Big Jim Eastland’s collection I’d open at the start, and here’s why: Eastland exercised huge control over both the Mississippi Delta and the U.S. Senate well over four decades.

A lawyer who’d once personally managed a 2000-acre plantation in Parchman Penitentiary’s backyard, and who had served fewer years than the state’s junior senator, Big Jim was known as Mississippi’s senior senator because he held the most power – as chair of the senate committee on the judiciary for over twenty years, then president pro tempore of the senate during his last six years of office.

The old senator wears a wrinkled long-sleeved white cotton shirt tucked into baggy linen pants supported by leather suspenders, and probably a cowboy hat covers his freckled, bald head. He smokes a fat cigar down to its stub, while blaring into a foghorn: “Miss-sippi must protect white’s rights. Our nig-rahs know we treat them real good here in the Delta.”

More than once in my Texas law school days my professors when picking out worst civil rights case examples would refer to the records of my state’s senators. Usually, I wanted to dive under my desk and disappear when this happened. A couple of examples:

As a prosecutor, Junior Senator John Stennis once sought the conviction and execution of three black sharecroppers, friends of my Grandpa Willie, whose murder confessions were obtained through torture, including flogging. The convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1936 landmark case of Brown vs. Mississippi that banned the use of evidence obtained by torture.

Eastland, known for keeping critical civil rights legislation in his back pocket for years, after the Supreme Court decided the1954 landmark school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education, immediately announced the Constitution had been destroyed and that no one was obliged to obey the decisions of any court “which are plainly fraudulent” (his words).

My secret box of Eastland documents had grown the most over our investigative years. The old goat was practically my neighbor until he died of pneumonia on his plantation farm in Doddsville in 1986.

In my first pass through the boxes, I found intriguing a small article I’d once clipped from the New Orleans Times-Picayune that reported seven years before President John F, Kennedy was assassinated, that the former chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, accompanied by a private detective (later linked to the JFK assassination), traveled over to Eastland’s office in Greenwood to confer with Big Jim for more than three hours, afterwards describing the conference as "completely satisfactory."

This meeting might not sound like much, but here was the real kicker: the detective, Guy Banister, was later associated to Lee Harvey Oswald through Eastland’s very secret Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or SISS, sometimes called "SISSY.” Oswald, who may have done intelligence work for SISSY, was JFK’s supposed assassin.

I think I know where the New Orleans reporter was going with this, since an old law school classmate of mine who’d worked for the FBI had warned me about Eastland, confirming that both Oswald and Banister had contracted to do intelligence work by SISSY back in the late 1950s.

If my friend was telling me the truth, this would reveal much about Oswald and who he really was, and led to the identity of the secret planners of the assassination; it definitely was worth digging through my Eastland files to see what else I might have collected. 

When the senator used to come back home to Mississippi for short visits from Washington, D.C., he often brought powerful friends with him. His plantation secretary, a nice lady from the small town of Ruleville, once confided to me, after Eastland died, that Big Jim and J. Edgar Hoover were sitting on his veranda visiting, a week before Kennedy was assassinated, when Hoover told Eastland of what was about to happen in Dallas

Hoover acted stoic, this secretary told  me said, “after he told my boss [about the JFK assassination plan],” and the FBI director told Eastland there was nothing as acting FBI director that he could do to stop the event, she’d heard him say.

“It’s already in motion, Jim. We’ll have to just sit back and watch,” were Hoover’s exact words, she told me, and later she shared still another interesting story: she had accompanied Eastland to a place “somewhere in the mountains of a western state, where we saw discs flying in and out of a big cave.”

Flying saucers? This was not so hard to believe, since Eastland and his cronies had been a part of Operation Paperclip, bringing former Nazis into the U.S. to work on their science projects. The Germans had already invented flying discs, I’d later learn in declassified reports.

Even without considering the JFK story, or the flying discs, it was well known around the state that Eastland had his hands in the civil rights pot, stirring it up.

 

In the summer of 1964, three young civil rights workers – Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman – were reported missing in Philadelphia, a small town outside of the Delta, about 80 miles northeast of Jackson, where the Mississippi Klan was thick. On June 21and 22 they were lynched by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County's Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department. The three had been working on the "Freedom Summer" campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

As college students were flocking into the state to help with literacy education and voting rights, the atmosphere here was tense. I’d collected some old clippings from Jackson’s Clarion Ledger reporting that most Mississippians – meaning white Mississippians – saw the students as

“…smug, shrill know-it-all extroverts, problem brats defiant of parental restraint, sexually promiscuous, and addicted to interracial love-making – and more hostile to the White South than to Red Russia.”

Years later, it would come out from declassified papers that Eastland had told President Johnson that the three murders were a hoax, and there was “no Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi,” and that the three volunteers had simply gone to Chicago.

But Eastland damned well knew which students were coming into Mississippi beforehand, and had predicted in a memo that there would be trouble with the Klan. I could prove this with my copy of this Sovereignty Commission report written in Eastland’s own words.

By now, I’d put together  a pile of Eastland-generated notes and papers involving everything from Emmett Till’s murder to the presidential assassination and the killing of these three summer volunteers, as well as of Medgar Evers.

I decided to keep Senator Eastland on my A-list. It hadn’t been so long since he’d died, and there could be someone out there in the Delta or possibly in Washington D.C., who still had a need to protect the old man’s secrets and his questionable reputation. But I still had more boxes to search.

# # #

The Plan is set for publication in July of 2013.

Copyright © 2013 By Susan Klopfer

Permission is granted by the author, Susan Klopfer, to reprint this chapter. All of the chapter must be presented in full. The author’s website must be included. http://ebooksfromsusan.com.